John Basilone (Medal of Honor recipient) married Lena Mae Riggi (a Marine sergeant) on the 10th of July, 1944. Their wedding took place at St. Mary's Church in Oceanside, California. Their reception was at the Carlsbad Hotel, just down the street from the church.
The following day, the Basilones took a train to Portland, Oregon where they spent a few days with Lena's parents.
Returning to Camp Pendleton, the couple could not afford their own apartment since John would not use the Medal of Honor to gain favorable treatment. As a result, they each lived in their separate barracks.
When John's unit left California, the newlyweds said goodbye inside a Camp Pendleton mess hall:
"We talked of our life after the war - what we would name the first boy and the first girl," Basilone said. "She held up pretty well while we talked. She didn't cry, and pretended she was okay, but she was no poker player. But I was. I told her, 'I'm coming back,' and she believed me." (James Brady, quoting Basilone in Hero of the Pacific, page 176.)
After John's death, at Iwo Jima, Lena remained with the Marine Corps for a number of years. She ultimately achieved the rank of Master Sergeant and did a great deal to help veterans.
Her niece, Fiddle Viracola (an actress), provided information for Brady's book:
She became a master sergeant and left the Marine Corps eventually and ran a company that was in air-conditioning and things like that and was involved in many things for the vets. People were drawn to Lena. (Brady, page 226.)
John Basilone's widow never married again because, as she told her friends:
I was married to the best.
According to her niece, she also said:
Great love only happens once.
Wedding photo of John and Lena Basilone, taken on the 10th of July, 1944. Image provided by Clinton Watters (depicted on the right), who was Basilone's best man, and Basilone Parade.
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